All the action in the Prince George's County school board election race is taking place in District 3, where three opponents are challenging incumbent Chester E. Whiting for the seat he has held since 1967. The 79-year-old Whiting, who headed the school board during the first two years after a court-ordered busing plan was put into effect, faces a tough fight. Most of the other candidates, however, are not even waging campaigns before the May 13 primary.
In two of the six districts holding elections this year, incumbents Doris A. Eugene and Norman H. Saunders will not face opposition until the general election in November. Challenging Eugene next fall will be Paul D. Duncan, a former director of the county Department of Program Planning and Economic Development. Saunders' opponent is Mary M. D. Touchstone, a former officer in the Camp Springs Elementary PTA and a supervisor in the District of Columbia Department of Human Services.
Incumbent board members Susan B. Bieniasz, JoAnn T. Bell and Bonnie F. Johns are unopposed in both the primary and general elections.
In the District 3 race, challengers Malinda G. Miles of Mt. Rainier, William T. Flahive of Adelphi and Catherine M. Burch of Langley Park all have accused Whiting of being out of contact with his district, which borders Montgomery County and the District of Columbia.
"He (Whiting) didn't go out to find out how the community felt about the citizens advisory committee plan on busing, so he ended up abstaining," said Flahive, a Defense Department research analyst with two children at Adelphi Elementary School.
"Whiting said that he got several phone calls a few days before the vote complaining about the plan," he added. "That shouldn't have been enough to change his mind if he knew what the people in the community thought."
In response, Whiting said, "I couldn't vote for that plan because it drastically affects at least three schools in the district. Because of enrollment declines, two would have been placed in jeopardy of being closed -- J. Enos Ray and Ridgecrest Elementary Schools."
The plan, approved recently by the school board, will reduce busing by almost 25 percent and will allow more than 3,700 elementary school pupils to attend schools in or nearer their neighborhoods next fall.
Both Miles and Burch said that they would have opposed the citizens advisory committee plan. "I think he (Whiting) took the chicken way out," said Burch. "If he opposed the plan, he should have voted against it. If he supported it, he should have voted for it."
Miles, a personnel recruiter for the National Education Association, said that while she opposes the busing plan, she intends to focus most of her attention on "improving quality education in Prince George's.
"I'm not really worried about busing, because it's just another tool used to ensure that everyone gets a quality education," Miles commented. "We should be concentrating on what happens to a child at the end of the bus-ride -- are there enough books, good staff and innovative programs to give him or her the best education possible?"
She said that she would support a modification of TRIM, the country's tax-limiting charter amendment, that would allow the school board budget to keep pace with inflation.
"I guess a lot of county voters weren't thinking of double-digit inflation when they voted for TRIM," said Miles. "The public schools could be in real trouble soon unless some new money is found."
"We also need a board representative who is willing to visit the schools and communities in this district on a regular basis," said Miles. "If the elected representative doesn't do that, who will?"
Flahive has said that he too would support a modification of TRIM because of what he believes is its potentially negative impact on quality education.
"It's pretty clear that unless the schools are able to get more money, the student-teacher ratios will continue to go up in the schools," he said.
"I plan to support an amendment to TRIM which would allow for around 4 percent growth in property tax revenues each year and add taxes for new development," Flahive added.
He said he would also do a better job of staying in contact with the District 3 constituents Whiting has represented for the past 13 years.
"If I'm elected, I would hold bimonthly meetings in various parts of the district to make sure that the citizens had input," said Flahive. "I might even experiment with the idea of some kind of newsletter to be published twice a year."
Whiting said he expects his record to speak for his candidacy.
"I think the people in this district like my low-key approach," he said. "Over the years, I think the record shows I've shown a willingness not only to condemn but to try and help."
"I want to see a good and effective school system, but I know there is a limit to how much you can economize," Whiting added. "With my experience I think I would be the best representative in the fight to preserve quality education in Prince George's."
The two highest vote-getters in the District 3 race will advance to the general election in November. The school board election is nonpartisan.